Office of Hazel Blears MP
Minister of State
50 Queen Anne’s Gate
London SW1H 9AT
Dear Mrs Blears,
I am writing to you today in response to the announced plans outlined in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill and specifically the sections concerning the availability of replica firearms.
Violent gun crime is now an unfortunate ever present fear. The media regularly pounce on any occurrences of gun crime and the picture painted is that guns are everywhere and moreover the police (being unarmed) are in need of help in dealing with the issue. However, one only has to read statistical articles published by the Home Office1 and compare those to the language and images conjured in the mainstream press to see that the perceived fear does not match the actual threat. The home office website shows that the vast majority of gun crime is concentrated in the gang areas of our major cities and not amok around the country as a whole. It would appear then that the most coherent strategy’s is directly combating these gangs and thus reducing the gun statistics, as well as crime levels as a whole. The reality is that simple reduction in guns does little to curb crime. For example, Japan has for many years held one of the lowest gun crime rates and this has been attributed to the simple low ownership of guns by the public. I invite you to read the very illuminating article by the director of the Firearms Research Project of Colorado2 that shows very clearly that the Japanese essentially live in a police state, which would be untenable here in the west and it is this that leads to low crime not gun control per say. The simple fact is that here in the west gun crime is very much in the hands of organised criminals I.E. people outside the control of any legal legislation in the first place.
On the other hand there are replica and air powered guns. The most obvious reason that replicas firearms are a concern is that they look like a real firearm. They are in fact functionally harmless, but the feeling is that people with these replicas may use them to threaten and terrorize and that the police cannot easily tell them from real steel guns3. All people would agree that children should not be in possession of firearms of any kind outside strict adult control and it is clear that the proposed bill will go some way to addressing this. The Bill should also put pay to the cheap spring powered plastic replicas available at markets and drastically reduce the number of these “toys” in the hands of children.
However, there are serious problems with it and I am writing to ask for you to pressure for an exception to be made. Airsoft is a type of air gun that shoots a 6mm or 8mm light plastic balls (usually .25 of a gram). These guns are generally gas, spring or battery powered and are classified as having under a 1 joule velocity. This is the velocity under which even a direct shot into the eye will not result in permanent damage (see the Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report on firearms4). The problem with the Bill in its current form lay in the fact that it will also prevent responsible adults from enjoying the sports associated with airsoft guns. That is people like myself who are involved in the sport of airsoft target shooting or skirmishing. Skirmishing airsoft is very similar to paint ball but simply without the paint. I have been playing airsoft for many years and now regularly attend a club in the center of London where along with around 50 others play tactical games of skill and teamwork in a safe and monitored environment. The people who play this sport are from all walks of life. I myself work for a City of London merchant bank and there are all sorts of other professionals such as builders, millers, and even a few police officers who regularly meet up and play. Under this ban this sport will quickly die and livelihoods built around the sport will suffer. It appears very unfair to my thousands of fellows around the country, who perfectly sensibly and safely play, that their sport is being closed out in the illusion that it will actually help prevent crime in any real sense5.
Airsoft guns are generally made of plastic and it is not possible to convert one to fire live ammunition. They are functionally harmless. The problem is only one of how they look and their availability in unlicensed and unregulated stores such as market stalls. I ask you to consider an analogy to fencing. Remember back a few years to before the media became fixated on replica guns. Then they were more focused on swords. Samurai style swords were and still are readily available to buy in this country. The analogy is to banning the sale of fencing foils in order to reduce the perceived sword crime figures. Fencing foils look like swords, they act like swords, their owners would be in serious trouble if they terrorized the public with them, and the police have a hard time telling one apart from a real sword in an emergency. They are, however, harmless. Just as airsoft guns are harmless. Would the government faced with rising sword crime ban the sale of fencing foils? No. They would simply ask the fencing community to make sure that the foils are capable to being told apart from real swords. This is the compromise that is needed to save my sport.
In the US airsoft guns are made with bright orange paint on the tips of their barrels. These tips are required on all imported or exported guns, are a crime to remove, and required for a valid warranty. I am asking that the government look at having the same requirements for UK airsoft player’s guns coupled with licensing for their importation. licensing shops and websites selling airsoft guns in the UK would immediately stop their sale at markets to the underage, drastically reduce the numbers in the hands of children and teenagers, but at the same time allow those of us who play responsibly to continue to do so. Be sure that whilst airsoft is not itself being directly banned, the banning of buying new guns will kill this fairly new but popular sport.
This compromise will stop the market stalls and cheap guns in the hands of children, while at the same time making the correct judgment that airsoft is a viable sport played by adults in a safe manner, just like fencing. Just like rugby. Just like hockey.
The airsoft community led by the retailers is more than willing to work with the government6. Please pressure the government to work with the airsoft community7, we will listen and we are dedicated to being responsible.
Many thanks for reading my communication.
I have also a number of footnotes:
7.While airsoft has no official governing body, many players are congregated around web forums such as http://www.airsoftcommunity.co.uk/forums/ and http://www.arniesairsoft.co.uk/forums/